Just in time to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Mattel has announced a new Barbie doll honoring Anna May Wong. A trailblazing movie star from the first half of the 20th century, Wong is widely considered to be the first Chinese American female actor in Hollywood.
The Anna May Wong doll is part of the Barbie Inspiring Women series, which has immortalized other cultural icons such as Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, and Sally Ride. “As the first Asian American actor to lead a U.S. television show, whose perseverance broke down barriers for her gender and AAPI community in film and TV, Anna May Wong is the perfect fit for our Barbie Inspiring Women Series,” said Mattel's executive vice president, Lisa McKnight.
Mattel worked closely with Anna Wong, the actor's niece, to develop the doll's look. “I did not hesitate at all. It was such an honor and so exciting,” she told AP News. “I wanted to make sure they got her facial features and clothing correct. And they did!” Wong’s niece added that she had a Barbie growing up, so she loves the idea of Asian children having a doll who looks like them.
Designed by Carlyle Nuera, the new Barbie doll features Wong’s signature blunt bangs and pencil-thin eyebrows, as well as red lipstick and dramatic eye makeup. She is dressed in a red evening gown with a golden dragon design and a long sheer shawl, along with golden earrings and heels. Her elegant outfit is inspired by her appearance in Limehouse Blues (1934).
Born in Los Angeles in 1905, Wong grew up seeing movie crews around her neighborhood. She landed her first leading role in The Toll of the Sea (1922) at age 17, before making a swift transition to the sound film era. Her filmography includes The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first-ever U.S. television show starring an Asian American as a series lead. She was also the first Asian American woman to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for acting.
On top of her screen work, Wong was considered one of the best dressed women of her time. She was known for mixing flapper style with traditional Chinese garments and bold accessories. Despite reaching international success, Wong struggled with stereotypes in the film industry, which led her to advocate for greater representation of Asian American actors in Hollywood.
Before getting her own Barbie, Wong also made history a few months ago when she became the first Asian American to appear on U.S. currency as part of the American Women Quarters program.